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The Grand Canyon Series is a collection of how executive coaching gave critical insight to author Mark Daly’s tremendous (and sometimes treacherous!) experiences in one of America’s greatest destinations.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber, Austrian Philosopher

In their well-known book Below the Rim: Death in the Grand Canyon (2012) Myers and Ghiglieri site dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries every year in America’s National Parks, including the Grand Canyon. The ‘Rim’ refers to the edge of the canyon – the North Rim being 8,200 feet above sea level, whereas the South Rim is roughly 5,200 feet above sea level. To wit, stepping off the Rim creates questions of the mind – and considerable uncertainty. There is risk of injury or death in the dry, desolate canyon. Compound errors can accelerate mistakes in judgment and create accidents and medical emergencies.

So what was I thinking taking a hike below the Rim during the hottest (and most dangerous) time of year?

Warnings & Miscalculations

“We are concerned you have chosen a summer hike,” Ranger Wunner of the National Park Service warned. “Hiking in the desert Grand Canyon during the hottest time of year carries inherent risk; temperatures in the shade can reach 120 degrees. Avoiding extreme heat is crucial to ensuring your personal safety. Do not underestimate the intensity of mid-day sun.”

As human beings, we are driven to explore. It’s how we find our secret destinations, after all. It’s also human nature to sometimes overestimate our capabilities – and miscalculate the risks. I knew Ranger Wunner had my best interests at heart, but the call of the wild drove me below the Rim.

Panic Setting In

Two risks of summer hiking are losing the trail and running out of water. On my hike below the Rim that day, I unfortunately miscalculated my risk of both. The trail itself was intermittent and hard to follow. I began descending the wash, with a full backpack, crawling down boulders of larger and larger size. The downward pitch increased, revealing steeper slopes below. The dense thorned brush became thicker.

Mild panic set in when I realized I was becoming rimrocked, which meant I would soon be unable to climb up or down. In turn, getting rimrocked would mean I would have to be rescued – which is extremely rare in the remote reaches of the Canyon.

What was more likely? They would recover my dead body instead.

The Critical Moment

As I recognized my emotions and current course had drawn me closer to danger, my instincts as an Executive Coach kicked in. Executive Coaches use assessments to determine the client baseline, from which they can then set goals, identify opportunities, and overcome obstacles. Coaching taught me to sit down, gather thoughts, think critically to begin figuring out my way to safety.

Ask yourself, how many times do we mindlessly continue on our current path, with little or no consideration of the outcome or consequences? And, in turn, how difficult it can be to change course, plot a new and better path, and achieve safety and security in our work and personal lives? These questions were on the back of my mind that day below the Rim.

Finding The Secret Destination

The good news about this experience was two-fold. First – I could hear the water of the gushing Deer Springs hundreds of feet below. The hydraulic gushing sound it made actually caused the ground to vibrate! My thirst became so intense I could think of nothing else. If I could just make it to Deer Springs, more than enough water was available. As well, I could see lush green areas below, a wide swath of living vegetation lined with tall grasses and cottonwood tree – an inviting oasis that suggested good camping and close proximity to the Colorado River.

Sitting on the rock, sipping the last ounce of water, I glanced to the right and saw the path to my salvation just under the 500 foot sheer vertical sandstone cliff. My instincts as an Executive Coach during that calm, lucid moment called me to a safer path. I heeded the siren call of fresh water and green valley that beckoned below. Spotting a 6 foot ribbon of trail-tred just barely visible in the middle of a massive rock field, I recalled the guidebook instructing that hikers must turn sharp right at the top of the wash. Continuing down the wash lead to sheer vertical cliffs – and no possibility of escape. Crawling on my stomach across a debris field of small scree, I reached the trail ribbon safely. To my right stood a massive monolith of Tapeats sandstone, the trail now regained!

Reflections from the Rim

Thinking back on the incident, it was emblematic of how many problems can be avoided using common sense and critical thinking. In those critical moments, my years of backpacking, coaching, and outdoor experience helped me decide to take time out to assess the situation, make an action plan, and then change to a different course. In other words, the same guidance I provide as an Executive Coach helped me decide to not become a statistic in the Grand Canyon that day.

The truth is, not everyone who steps below the Rim comes back. Conditions can change rapidly, making it necessary to adapt at a moment’s notice. While luck was certainly on my side that day, my background in Executive Coaching helped me adapt and plan for the situation I suddenly found myself in. Conditions in financial services can change rapidly too, which is why an Executive Coach can make all the difference for your practice. Call me at 986.888.0111 to build a proactive approach that helps you adapt and plan for every turn on the trail!